Utah Jazz: Best trade in franchise history with the Phoenix Suns

Typically, NBA teams are apprehensive to trade first-round draft picks that won’t convey until several years into the future. It’s difficult to predict where a team will find itself in more than 2 or 3 seasons, and so the value of those picks is generally deemed too unknown to risk parting with. However, the Phoenix Suns made quite the exception in an exchange made with the Utah Jazz in 2004.

Jazz Get
Tom Gugliotta
2004 FRP
2005 SRP
2010 FRP
Suns Get
Keon Clark
Ben Handlogten

In terms of the then-active NBA players involved in this deal, Gugliotta and Clark were the undisputed headliners. The former had been a borderline NBA star in his prime, posting impressive, well-rounded averages of 20.6 points, 8.7 rebounds 4.1, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game over the 1996-97 season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Meanwhile, Clark may not have been quite the same offensive force, but he was an intimidating rim protector, averaging 2.4 blocks per game for the Toronto Raptors over the 2000-01 season.

Ultimately, however, this didn’t look like a blockbuster trade on first glance. Gugliotta would finish the season with the Utah Jazz after this midseason exchange, and depart for the Boston Celtics the year after. That season would be his last in the Association, as he was well past his prime.

Meanwhile, Keon Clark’s career would be cut short by a lifelong struggle with alcoholism following the trade: he never played a game in the NBA again after leaving the Utah Jazz. His story is one of the NBA’s most captivating. His demons would earn him a 4-year prison stint shortly following his basketball career, and he now works as a motivational speaker.

On the court, the most significant piece in this trade would not be apparent for over a half-decade, as the Utah Jazz would use that 2010 first-round pick from the Suns to acquire Gordon Hayward.

That’s exactly the kind of unforeseen circumstance that makes teams hesitant to trade such distant first-round picks. The selection has a convoluted history; it actually came from the lottery-bound New York Knicks via the Phoenix Suns, who were themselves entrenched in the Steve Nash era, and probably fine without Hayward. Nonetheless, his value would comfortably exceed that of any other player involved in this deal.

Hayward would spend the first six seasons of his career with the Utah Jazz, and looked the part of longterm franchise player for much of that tenure. His best season in Salt Lake City came in 2016-17, when he posted averages of 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Those figures earned him a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 22.2.

Ultimately, Hayward would leave the Jazz to reunite with his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston, but he still gave the club’s fans an exciting and productive six years. This trade yielded 43.6 Win Shares (WS) for the Utah Jazz, and (due to Clark’s early retirement) 0 for the Phoenix Suns.

Two teams ought to have learned valuable lessons about trading distant first-round picks throughout the process of this exchange. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz may not have learned much; the potential value of a 2010 first-round pick was apparently already obvious to their front office in 2004.